I remember when I found out my senior year apartment came with a fully functioning kitchen. I spent the whole summer pinning recipes, fantasizing about all the great things I would cook, and finally leaving behind the slop my dining hall called “food.” However, by the time I finished practice, went to sorority meetings and night classes, or did whatever else I had to do, cooking was below “sticking my eyes in lemon juice” on my list of things I wanted to do. Instead, I became best friends with the pizza and sushi delivery guys.
I know I wasn’t the only one in this busy boat, and I know thousands of perfectly awesome kitchens going to waste as storage units, or simply as vessels to warm up our leftovers from our takeout.
Meet the baked chicken pesto meal. It’s super easy, super cheap, and pretty quick if you prep beforehand. You can prep all the ingredients beforehand, get it all set up in your pan with the foil on top, then pop it in about 30 or 40 minutes before you want to eat.
What You’ll Need:
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I used chicken breast tenderloins)
1/2 cup basil pesto
1/4 cup shredded mozzerella
Salt and pepper (to taste)
If you don’t feel like making your own pesto, feel free to pick some up at the grocery store and skip down to step three. But if you have the time and equipment, I highly recommend just making your own. Also, pesto is a great thing to have in your back pocket for when you become a real person and need to make real dinners for real people. And, to put the cherry on top, it’s pretty fucking easy, too.
1 cup basil leaves (packed)
1 bulb roasted garlic
1/4 cup roasted pine nuts
1/4 olive oil
Pinch of salt
Step 1: Roasted Garlic
Roasted garlic, besides making your kitchen smell like an Italian home in the countryside, is delicious. If you’ve never done it, it mellows the flavors of the garlic, but at the same time, sweetens it. People will eat roasted garlic with just a piece of bread and be happy campers, but today, we’re using it for pesto.
• Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
• Pull off the top layer of skin of the garlic
• Chop off the top of the garlic
• You don’t want to chop off too much, but don’t be hesitant or scared of taking too much off
• Wrap it in aluminum foil, with a little room on the top
• Once your oven is all heated up, place your garlic in a pan and into the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes
• Enjoy your apartment smelling delicious for the next half an hour!
Step 2: Make The Pesto
You could, in theory, also roast the pine nuts yourself, or you could buy roasted pine nuts and save your energy. Or you could do what I did and just not put them in the pesto. Whatev.
• Put basil and olive oil in food processor
• Squeeze in garlic cloves, making sure not to drop garlic skin in the pesto; also make sure you’ve let the garlic cool down so you don’t burn the absolute shit out of yourself (I didn’t let it cool, so not only did I burn the absolute shit out of myself, I had to use a napkin to hold it. Patience is not my virtue.)
• Juice the lemon into your mixture and throw in the pine nuts; if you don’t have a juicer, sticking a fork in a lemon and poking/twisting while squeezing is as effective as any juicer
• Let ‘er rip by turning on the processor until the mixture reaches a saucy consistency
I like my pesto smooth so I left it going for a good amount of time. If it’s chunky, that’s fine too.
Step 3: Prep Your Chicken
Your (or the jar from your bff, the grocery store) pesto is fab, and now it’s time to get your chicken on. Being the lazy girl I am, I chose to get chicken tenderloins from the store because they are cheaper and there is a lot less fat to trim off than regular breasts. You may get a little more bang for your buck, because you can get roughly around the same amount of meat once you break down the breasts into longer, smaller pieces, but I got a deal for a family pack of chicken breast tenderloins, so do whatever your heart desires.
Anyway, take out the chicken you’re going to use and cut off the white pieces on the chicken (the fat and tendons). It’s chewy, gross, and adds no flavor to the chicken, so just get it out of there. I saved about half of the chicken I bought and put it in the freezer, so next time I need chicken, I can just grab that instead of spending my precious moolah–seriously, this was a huge pack of chicken for, like, $5. So worth it.
• Wash your hands before proceeding, because if you don’t have time to make a meal for yourself, you definitely will not have time to be sick from raw chicken
• Once you’ve cleaned the chicken, salt and pepper both sides to season
• If you plan on throwing this in the oven right away, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Step 4: Put It All Together
• Grab a cake pan, roasting pan, or something not flat you can cook in and spray some nonstick spray on it (or use butter or a thin coat of olive oil if you don’t have any nonstick spray)
• Spread 1/4 cup of pesto on the bottom of your pan, or more if you want. Just not all of it, because you’ll need more in a minute
• Grab your chicken and place them side by side on the pan (they can touch if need be)
• Layer on another 1/4 cup of pesto (or more, you get down with your bad, pesto self); cover with foil
From here, you can throw it in the fridge and get on with the rest of your day, OR continue on with the next step.
Step 5: Cook It
You want your chicken to be completely cooked through, but not quite done. This is where my handy meat thermometer comes in handy, because I just stick it in and figure out if it is done based on the temperature. Chicken that reads between 160 and 165 degrees is perfectly done, so you don’t have to cut into it, essentially drying out your chicken. No dry chicken in your kitchen!
• Throw the covered pan into your 375-degree oven for about 25 or 30 minutes
• After the chicken is almost fully cooked, take off the foil and throw on your shredded mozzarella on top
• Let cheese melt for five minutes, then turn on the broiler in your oven for about two or three minutes to brown the cheese, making it perfectly gooey and crispy and, ugh, delicious.
• Pull it out and serve hot.
Boom, you just made a delicious dinner all by yourself. Look at that!
Because it’s a saucy dish (literally, this has a lot of sauce in the bottom of the pan) making some quinoa or rice with this chicken is a great idea. If you don’t know how to make rice as a college student, I don’t know why you think you can make this. Seriously, baby steps start with making rice without burning it.
You can pretend you’re on “Top Chef” and do a “swoosh” with extra sauce. Or you can just eat it–maybe I’m just weird.
The Verdict? Awesomely delicious. While the chicken cooked, I fed my dog, took a shower, and typed up half of this article. The last 10 minutes involved a lot of watching the cheese, making sure it didn’t burn and that the chicken didn’t overcook. I did all the prep work before I left for practice, and then threw it in when I got home. This is perfect for the busy gal running around, so give the pizza guy a night off and dig into this!.
Recipe and cover photo courtesy of Kaylin’s Kitchen.